|Air New Zealand CEO Ralph Norris, cereal king and mayor of Auckland Dick Hubbard, millionaire businessman John Sax – is there a growing collusion between the economic right and the social right in New Zealand?
Both Hubbard and Sax, within a day of being exposed by the GayNZ.com-led media, echoed distress at the fact a letter they wrote to MPs on the eve of the Civil Union Bill vote, which alleged gay parents were more likely to abuse and murder their children, was made public. What are the moral conservative aims of some of our most powerful corporate leaders, usually keen to avoid the limelight? Happy to use their names and titles to influence parliamentarians behind closed doors, the signatories of the Hubbard letter were less keen to let the public know what they really were thinking. How commonplace is this sort of stealth activism? And what can we expect next? Just prior to Christmas saw the publication of a book called “Family Matters” in New Zealand. It seeks to explore heterosexual family breakdown and its consequences. Its author is Patricia Morgan, a British writer whose previous book “Children As Trophies” was a diatribe against same-sex parenting published by the Christian Institute in the UK. In this book, Morgan used the research of discredited American junk scientist Paul Cameron to claim "the evidence is that around a third of all molestations of children are homosexual molestations, and the same applies to the proportion of paedophiles who are homosexual”. Morgan's revulsion towards gays is even more pronounced in another part of her book: “Homosexuals also suffer disproportionately from a range of morbid conditions compared to heterosexuals... Homosexual practices frequently result in physical injuries, not least to the rectum.” In the acknowledgements of her latest work “Family Matters”, Morgan says she is “indebted to John McNeil and the staff of the Maxim Institute for supplying statistics”. She also thanks Robert Whelan, trustee of “Family doesn't a lot of this welfare stuff come back to the family in the final analysis? And I said yeah, I think it does actually. He said, where's the bit of writing on the family in New Zealand? And I said, to the best of my knowledge, a general piece of work doesn't exist.” This led the Business Roundtable to go back to Green, now head of CIVITAS (The Institute for the Study of Civil Society) in London. Green referred them to Morgan, whom Kerr describes as “a very diligent, deciduous researcher”. Rajen Prasad, chief commissioner for the Families Commission, disagrees – at least about the conclusions Morgan has made in her book. “Morgan's interpretation of the data on change in families leads her to a response that might be referred to as moral panic,” he wrote in the Herald, in riposte to Morgan's op-ed piece. “She seeks a radical reversal of many family and economic policies. Here she is misguided... She boldly asserted that war was declared on the standard family in the 1970s by the left and right, sexual liberators and feminists. But the family still exists today as the foundation of our society.” A fairly pithy summary of Morgan's assertions, echoing that of the neo-scientific religious right. They can be distilled to “society is going to hell in a handcart, and I've got the numbers to prove it”. One wonders, though, how Morgan managed to get through an entire book on the family in New Zealand without making a single reference – detrimental or otherwise – to gay parenting, especially considering the content of her previous Christian Institute-published work. Was this topic deliberately avoided? “I don't think so, I've never consciously thought of it,” Kerr replies. “There's a whole lot of issues to do with the family that aren't touched on in the book. Adoption for example, the whole issue of cross-cultural adoption, you can get into the cloning stuff...we were mainly having a welfare focus in this book, because this has a close connection with public policy. If we've got family breakdowns, dysfunctional families, if we've got a lot of welfare dependency, then there's implications for taxpayers, and broader implications for the health of society.” The book has been a long time in gestation. Morgan, unfamiliar with New Zealand's social landscape, had to start from scratch in her research. Why was a New Zealand author not chosen to helm this project? “I'm not aware of anyone in New Zealand who has an international standing on this subject,” says Kerr. “David Green was the best in the world on his subject; my criteria [for author selection] is who can I think of who is willing to write for us.” Perhaps some more checking into Morgan's previous works might have been in order before giving her the green light. Kerr was unfamiliar with the content of the anti-gay “Children As Trophies” until GayNZ.com raised the issue. The wealth of hateful claims made within it about gays – based on junk science – paint a clear picture of Morgan's bias. Kerr admits that Morgan's work is “at the edge” of where the Business Roundtable is prepared to stray into the public debate on families. Same-sex parenting is a no-go area, he says, because as a subject it's “not part of our core business”. A book entitled “Family Matters” which advocates for policy changes to strengthen the family unit based on marriage (one presumes heterosexual) would seem, to an outsider, to not be part of the Roundtable's core business either. Liberal values involve lessening controls, not creating new ones – in an economic sense, the Roundtable would follow these principles to the letter. The jury is still out on where the organisation might stand on the issue of same-sex families, despite the avowedly liberal stance of its executive director. Morgan's book seems more about interpreting carefully selected figures from a moral standpoint, rather than a cold examination of facts. It's a stone's throw from blaming the decline of marriage to the rise of de-facto relationships and solo parenthood to vilifying gays and lesbians – as we have recently seen all too clearly. "Surely it is more productive to concentrate less on what a family is and more on what it does. How do families best love, protect and nurture each other? What are the factors that ensure the wellbeing of families? What makes a family successful? How could they become more resilient?" asks Families Commissioner Rajen Prasad. Perhaps the economy underlies the wellbeing and resilience of families in answering many of these questions. It might be safer for the Business Roundtable to stick to what they know in future, lest others with dubious intentions begin to set the agenda for them. Chris Banks - 6th January 2005